Homesickness causes many of the same problems as grief. Grief occurs when someone suffers a loss, and there can be many different types of loss in homesickness. Loss of family, friends, home, school, job, country, in fact all things familiar. Homesickness can be very traumatic, even when the loss isn't permanent, and there is the still the chance of going back for holidays or visits.
At the age of 10, I was admitted to hospital for an emergency appendectomy. My usual carefree self cried non stop, never having been away from home before. In those days visiting was only allowed once a week. Your family had to talk to you through a window as there was a fear of infection. No visitor was allowed on the ward. There were no familiar faces and the smells in the hospital were so unfamiliar that I was inconsolable despite the kindness of the staff.
Many years later I met this problem again when asked to work in the sick bay of a boarding school. Some of the young boys who were suffering from the outbreak of chicken pox were also very homesick.
Many children are sent to boarding school as young as 8 years old. Perhaps because of family tradition, military service or overseas postings. Whatever the reason these children need a lot of support from staff as it is inevitable that these children will suffer a form of loss and bereavement.
My cousin was sent to school in the UK at this tender age as his parents were in India. He still remembers 60 years on how difficult the early months were.
Many young people leave home at 18 years old to start a training course or college degree and it involves living away from home for the first time. Exciting but frightening. Many parents recall the tear filled phone calls during the early weeks of missing home. There really is the feeling of sickness. The loss of all the familiar life at home. It does take a while to become part of the new community and town. Even shops and the local geography are all strange.
Adults too can go through a very painful homesickness phase when they have to move to a different town or country for work or for other reasons. Imagine the shock and sense of loss of those refugees who have had to flee their homes because of war or famine, and who have lost absolutely everything, including their possessions and often other family members. These people will be missing their homeland with no hope of ever going back.
Many of the symptoms of homesickness mimic those of grief as they are so similar. They include anxiety, depression, crying, panic attacks, a roller-coaster of mood changes. Emotions such as fear, helplessness, waves of nostalgia for familiar things. Longing for family, country, home and friends. See my pages on the Emotions of Grief for more feelings you may experience.
Some people cope with change better than others. Many will get used to the new environment fairly quickly and make new friends. Others will find it more difficult. It will depend on individual personalities and how big a change has been experienced. It also depends very much on the reasons for the move. So it's impossible to say exactly how long it will last. But if you follow the advice given below and in other pages of this site for coping with grief, it will be easier to adapt.
If you are a child or college student, don't be afraid to tell people how you are feeling. Ring your parents and friends or write them regular letters. Be brave and go out and join in all the activities you can and make friends. Most of the people you meet will be in the same situation, so be friendly to them, and help them to settle in too.
Don't be surprised if some can't make it and give up, it is a huge lifestyle change. There may be other factors involved too, such as not enjoying the course. The school or the subject may be wrong for them and changing courses is not uncommon. Having a break mid course does occur too. Don't be judgmental with your child. Everyone is different and each person needs to find the right career and environment for them.
When moving with your close family and creating a new home for them, the transition can be looked upon as a new chapter of life and an exciting adventure. It is sad to hear wives saying to husbands that they couldn’t possibly move away from family and friends. We are all individuals and we should all be capable of coping with our independence, but sadly many do not achieve this. Those who haven't experienced much change at an early age, or who have lived in the same place for many years will find it more difficult. See our page on the grief of losing the family home.
But homesickness is similar to grief and should be treated the same. Accept and treasure the memories of how life used to be and embrace the new challenges. I have met people who have lived in Australia for 30 years and are still homesick for their country of origin. To me it seems a shame that they have spent years regretting the move and wishing for a different life. We all have to accept the lot we have and make the most of every day. After all life is precious and we only get one.
Grief and loss, then acceptance, make us stronger people, better able to cope with the slings and arrows of life's misfortunes and better able to help others in their times of need.
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